Dr. Megan Chin at Park View Pediatric Dentistry, gives her advice on how to prevent cavities in your child. She addresses the Do's and Dont's of taking care of your child's teeth for the optimal results. If you have any other questions or would like to set up an appointment with one of our experienced and caring doctors, call (646) 402-6578 today! You can also visit us on the web to see the services that we offer.
Early childhood caries (ECC) is a growing epidemic despite much public effort to treat it. Recent studies have shown that although the rate of tooth decay is decreasing in adults (due to fluoride and improved dental care), the number of children who suffer from cavities is on the rise. Cavities not only physically hurt children, but can also negatively affect their emotional and mental well-being. The September 2012 issue of the American Journal of Public Health reported on the detrimental effects of oral health problems on poor academic performance, largely due to missed days of school due to dental emergencies or dental pain. This also means that parents must miss days of work. Today we are more aware of how the mouth is connected to the body and our overall health. Dental caries is a highly preventable problem, which starts right at home. Take note on this advice to help prevent cavities in your child.
Do Take Your Infant to the Dentist Early and Regularly
It's never too early to start your child on the right path to a healthy mouth. Based on recommendations given by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), a child should visit the dentist by the time the first tooth comes into the mouth and no later than their first birthday. This may seem premature, but the first dental visit is crucial to parents, especially first-timers. You will receive valuable education on proper oral hygiene habits and dietary counseling to keep your child's teeth cavity-free. You should bring your child back regularly at least every six months so that the dentist can monitor her oral growth and development, check for any cavities or areas that need improved oral hygiene, and address any problems before they become larger issues. Maintaining her oral care will be important.
Do Feed Your Child Healthy Snacks and Meals
Caries are caused primarily by foods containing high amounts of carbohydrates and sugars. Very sticky snacks are particularly harmful to teeth, because they easily lodge into the pits and grooves of your child's teeth and are difficult for the mouth to clear naturally. Thus, it is best to avoid feeding your child chewy snacks such as dried fruit, granola, hard cookies, gummies and caramel. Instead she should stick with softer snacks that slide off her teeth. Fresh fruits and veggies are fine, and some foods, like cheese, have been shown to prevent cavities. One substance in particular, xylitol (an artificial sweetener), has been proven to actually stop the growth of cavity-causing bacteria. So candy or gum sweetened with xylitol will be great treats. When it comes to liquids, water is always the best choice. Juice and sugary drinks should be kept to a minimum and it is recommended that your child drinks no more than 4-6 ounces per day. Parents should avoid putting their infant or toddler to sleep with a bottle containing anything other than water as this practice is the primary cause of ECC today.
Do Practice Good Oral Hygiene
You can begin wiping or brushing with a cloth or soft infant brush and water to clean your baby's mouth even before the first tooth erupts. Before the age of 2 only a smear of toothpaste should be used and between 2-5 years you can use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Use discretion when using fluoride-containing toothpaste and make sure she spits completely after brushing to minimize ingestion of excess toothpaste. While beneficial, too much fluoride can cause fluorosis and can affect the appearance of her adult teeth. Your youngster should brush at least twice daily, after breakfast and before going to bed. If they take medicine by mouth, it’s best for them to brush their teeth afterwards as medication often is sweetened with sugar or flavoring. She should floss at least once a day to clean in between the teeth that touch and they should always have adult supervision when she brushes and flosses.
Do Make Sure Your Child is Receiving Enough Fluoride
Fluoride is an important substance that prevents cavities and has even been shown to arrest the growth of smaller cavities when they have just started forming. When fluoride is ingested, it is absorbed by the tooth and becomes part of the enamel, making it more resistant to acid attack from cavity-causing foods and bacteria and thus preventing cavities. Fluoride can be delivered in a variety of ways. It can be administered topically, in daily toothpaste and rinses or prescription strength formulations given after a dental cleaning. It also can be given systemically; some areas have fluoridated the public drinking water supply. Talk to your dentist or pediatrician to see if you are receiving an adequate amount of fluoride or if supplementation may be necessary.
Do Have Your Child's Teeth Sealed
A dental sealant consists of a protective resin layer that is applied to the chewing surface of posterior teeth, which usually contain a lot of pits and grooves. It fills in the lines so that the surfaces are smooth and food doesn't stick as easily. The resin also seals out cavity-causing bacteria. Permanent teeth are most commonly sealed as soon as they come into the mouth, however some primary teeth may be sealed if they have deep grooves and fissures. Some recent controversy has been associated with sealant material but changes to the formulation of the material has been improved in light of this. Overall the benefits of this preventive procedure far outweighs any of the minimal risks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends sealants for all school-aged children. Sealants absolutely benefit children and can also help adults. When done properly, a sealant can last years although your dentist will check them regularly to make sure they are still intact. Sealants can easily be replaced or repaired as the procedure is quick and painless, making them very worthwhile.
Do Not Let Your Child be a Grazer
The timing of when and how often your child eats play a role in the formation of cavities. When eating sugars, the acid produced by the bacteria attacks the enamel of teeth. Over time, your child's mouth will neutralize and return to its original, more neutral state. However, if your child is constantly drinking or snacking before her mouth can recover, then her teeth will be under constant attack. Thus eating a few larger meals throughout the day is recommended over frequent smaller meals or snacking sessions. If your child wants to have a treat or a drink of juice, it is best to give it to her during one of her meals.
Do Not Assume That Only Candy and Sweets Causes Cavities
The bacteria that causes cavities and reside in your child's mouth thrive off of carbohydrates. This is why even savory snacks like crackers and potato chips are the main culprits in causing caries in the chewing surfaces of teeth. These snacks also tend to stick tenaciously to the pits and fissures on the back teeth. Once the bacteria transforms the by-products of the snack into acid, they form holes in your child's enamel which can easily spread to the dentin and deeper layers of the teeth if not treated. Although sometimes called “sugar bugs,” the bacteria actually do not distinguish sweet from salty.
Do Not Share Utensils With Your Child
Cavity-causing bacteria can be transferred easily between people, in a process called vertical transmission. When infants are born, they actually do not naturally have the bacteria that causes cavities. The bacteria is most often introduced by parents or caregivers who can infect their children during daily activities that seem harmless. Try to avoid kissing your child directly on the mouth and avoid sharing utensils and drinks with her.
Do Not Only Drink Bottled Water
The addition of fluoride to municipal water supplies has helped decrease tooth decay significantly. If your child drinks only bottled water that does not contain fluoride, she will miss out on its benefits. Be sure to give her some tap water, too. In areas without fluoridated water, fluoride vitamins and supplements can be helpful. Fluoride supplements are only available by prescription from your dentist or pediatrician.
Do Not Allow Your Child to Brush or Floss Without Supervision
While your child is growing and developing she will need help from you to brush her teeth properly and thoroughly. She doesn't quite have the fine motor skills needed to brush and floss all the way in the back. As a guide, help your child until she is at least 6 or 7 years old. This age will vary with each child as some are more independent than others. Let her have a turn brushing her teeth first and then you can complete the job. There are even 'mommy and me' brushes specifically designed to fit both the child and mom's hands on the toothbrush handle at the same time. With supervision you will be able to monitor when she is ready to do the job on her own. The use of a tooth timer or an electric toothbrush with a built-in timer will make brushing fun and also aid in making sure she brushes for the recommended two minutes.
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